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Film / Testament

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Testament is a 1983 drama film, directed by Lynne Littman and starring Jane Alexander and William Devane, about a nuclear exchange and the effects it has on a small suburban community outside of San Francisco.

Unlike The Day After and Threads, which deal with the catastrophic effect of direct strikes, the town of Hamlin suffers no physical damage from the bombs. Instead the residents are forced to deal with the (literal) fallout, as well as gradual radiation poisoning and the drawn-out collapse of what's left of the world outside.

Originally produced for PBS' American Playhouse, it received such high acclaim that Paramount picked it up for a limited theatrical release. Jane Alexander earned a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for her performance.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abandoned Playground: A shot of one is juxtaposed with images of a mass graveyard.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The film is based on the short story "The Last Testament" by Carol Amen.
  • After the End: The movie takes place in a world where humans are slowly dying out from radiation poisoning.
  • Apocalypse How: Class 1, possibly a Class 2.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Most of the town, including two of Carol's children are dead, and she and her son are both dying from radiation poisoning, but she tells him they need to remember it all, "the good and the awful", for the sake of whoever might survive. Still, this is a more hopeful ending than the short story it was based on which ends on an unambiguous Downer Ending.
  • Cool Old Guy: Henry Abhart. Brad spends a lot of time with him, even as the man gets sicker.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Radiation poisoning definitely counts.
  • Death of a Child: Most of the children, and one actual infant, die of radiation poisoning.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Most characters succumb to one eventually.
  • Disappeared Dad: Tom doesn't make it back from San Francisco. Not surprising, considering it was obliterated.
  • Dramatic Incontinence: A small boy suffering from severe radiation sickness loses control of his bowels. The really horrifying thing is that you can see bloodstains on the towel his mother wraps him in — it's literally organ failure.
  • Driven to Suicide: Subverted. Carol decides it would be better to commit suicide rather than die slowly of radiation poisoning, but she can't go through with it.
  • Emergency Broadcast: Briefly, before San Francisco is nuked and the signal is lost.
  • Face Death with Dignity: What Carol and her oldest son eventually decide to do.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: At several points, most notably at the end of the film.
  • Happier Home Movie: The film juxtaposes home-movie footage, used to show the happy times of the family members who are the main characters, with life in the small town after the bomb.
  • Happily Adopted: Hiroshi, the developmentally disabled son of the owner of the town gas station, is happy to go with Carol after his father dies. Larry, a neighboring child, is also adopted when his parents don't return from San Francisco, but he's hardly happy.
  • Housewife: Carol was one.
  • I'm Cold... So Cold...: Nobody actually says this, but a number of characters start wrapping themselves in blankets. Chills are a Real Life symptom of radiation sickness.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: A symptom of radiation poisoning, and a good sign that a character isn't going to live much longer.
  • Oh, Crap!: On several occasions. The most obvious is the Emergency Broadcast, but a subtler one comes from Henry Abhart, who tells Carol's son Brad that he can no longer raise a reply from Santa Rosa, implying everyone there has been killed by the radiation. After Henry dies, Brad fails to contact anyone.
  • Ominous Hair Loss: At one point late in the movie, Carol runs a hand through her hair and a large chunk falls out. Hair loss is a symptom of radiation poisoning.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: The main character, Carol, is a mother of three children, two of whom die of radiation poisoning. The third is visibly sick by the end of the movie. Her husband, who was in San Francisco when the bombs were dropped, never comes home.
  • Potty Failure: A tragic example, as it becomes a symptom of radiation sickness. Scottie succumbs to his before he dies.
  • Precision F-Strike: At one point, Carol voices her anger at whoever was responsible for the attack, saying, "Goddamn you!" Remember, this was meant to be a made-for-TV movie in 1983.
  • The Radio Dies First: That and the television. Henry has a ham radio that he uses to keep in touch with other communities, but no other technology works.
  • Riddle for the Ages: The characters never do learn who attacked, or why, and neither does the audience.
  • School Play: The children had been rehearsing The Pied Piper of Hamelin before the bombs fell, and put it on anyway. Most of the adult audience are in tears by the end.
  • Sanity Slippage: Understandably, Carol has a little of this.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Averted. While there is a bright flash of light when San Francisco is hit, we never see anything blow up.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: Carol is heard vomiting (another symptom of radiation poisoning), but it's only shown in silhouette.